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November 9th, 2009 by Dr. Frank Lawlis

Emotional Eating

The following post is from someone I’ve known for a long time, whom I admire and have great respect for. Dr. Frank Lawlis was my major professor while I was earning my PhD, and he and I have worked together for almost 25 years. He is currently the chairman of the Dr. Phil Advisory Board and is also an expert on ADD and ADHD. Dr. Lawlis is the co-founder of the Lawlis Peavey PsychoNeuroPlasticity (PNP) Center, and the author of the best-selling books The ADD Answer and The IQ Answer.

eating1Why do people gorge on food when they become stressed, anxious or depressed? This phenomenon is known as emotional eating, and it’s always been one of my major interests as a psychologist. Part of the answer can be found in the cultures in which people are raised. I remember my father telling me to eat something that “sticks to your ribs” when I was challenged to perform a test that required a lot of concentration and energy. But I was always confused about how food stuck to my ribs. I later learned that he wanted me to eat foods high in protein and carbohydrates. Other families had spaghetti as their comfort food when they experienced grief or sadness. And I suppose 90 percent of Americans have chocolate cake for the emotional celebrations of the time.

Emotional eating is one of the biggest stress-coping mechanisms we have, and it often results in bad nutrition and weight gain. Every time our feelings get hurt, we hunt for the biggest sugar-coated donuts we can find, and it’s easy to tip the scales at 400 pounds by the time we reach adulthood. Our pancreas give up and diabetes becomes a life-long threat. I have had long discussions with my wife, Dr. Susan Franks, who specializes in bariatrics or weight issues, and she reports that emotional eating is the one major challenge to anyone trying to shed the pounds, whether he or she is on a diet plan or has resorted to surgery.

Many parents have used food to calm their babies, a coping technique that stays with us as we age. As infants, we are nursed or receive a bottle full of warm milk every time we cry, whether we need our diapers changed or want attention, and later candy becomes a currency of great importance. Let’s face it: Food has become a major health behavior in psychology as well as a factor in potential health problems.

I thought I had the answer when I published The Brain Power Cookbook. Along with co-author, Dr. Maggie Robinson, we listed over 200 recipes for good tasting foods according to the emotional and cognitive needs a person may have. For example, there were several healthy recipes listed for those suffering from depression. We also recommended nutritious meals to help combat anxiety and stress, and even to increase libido.

The next time you reach for a candy bar or a French fry, ask yourself this: Do your choices relate to culture or some personality trait? It’s been reported that aggressive people prefer hard crunchy food and more subdued people like soft mushy fare. Are you an emotional eater? If so, what kinds of food do you crave for emotional needs, such as salty, crunchy, fatty, sugary or gooey? Most importantly, does emotional eating interfere with your weight management? How would you assess your personality in relationship to your cravings? I don’t have all the answers, but I’m hoping your responses can stimulate a much-needed discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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38 Responses to “Emotional Eating”

  1. CarolNY says:

    It’s easy and it’s difficult to understand. I eat emotionally and have for years. I feel my eating emotionally has made it that I can’t keep to eating healhty. I love eating healthy and have done great at it but I get side tracked each and every time because of somethng going on in my head. Be it sad because I can’t be with my family, or hurting because my body hurts, or worried about the economy, I eat to stop feeling those stressful feelings. My yo-yo dieting has harmed me physically I’m sure. I’m soon to have TKR (total knee replacement) for both of my knees. I should right now be eating healhty and preparing myself for this big surgery. I am eating because I’m worried, scared and hurting. Vicious cycle it can be. I want to hear about how you feel about emotional eating and how to get away from it. I think I heard you remark about how Robin helps you to eat healthy. I find it hard to believe you both don’t get that feeling you need to fill and want nothing but a special food to take care of it.

  2. Kristin says:

    DrPhil~ my name is Kristin and I am an emotional eater. I am in a very abusive relationship and he also puts me down he said to me the other night “He can hear me getting fatter.” I was skinny at 130 pounds but after 5 years of no stop abuse from him and two kids later I am sitting on 225. I am 100 pounds over weight for my height, I have high blood pressure and doctor said I am close to being a diabatic. He beats me with his hands and I beat myself up with food. I really want the chance to get healthy. We are going threw a divorce also he walked out on us becasue he said he doesnt want to be a father, a husband or a provider anymore. He controls the money I dont have access to his account. I dont have a vechiclle to get away from him. I guess I am giving up on myself because I figure nobody will help me. I know I need to help myself first but I put my kids before myself everyday, all day. I am a stay at home mother, and a fulltime student (online) and no car or no job. I am trying everything to get away from his abuse but nothing seems to be working. I have tried FCC (freecharitycars.com) to help with a car, shelters, the police, blogging to you, Robin (sorry dont want to me a pain), Oprah, I have talked to people on your show and they are very nice by the way..lol.. We need help ASAP. I watch your show everyday even if i feel like your talking to me and not the person in front of you. You said have you done enough to leave the marriage and when he walked out on me he walked out on ALL of us. He walked out on All of us is so right he said he doesnt want to be a father too. I have done so much in this marriage and have got nothing in return. I havent told my family all of what he has done becaue I dont want it to get back to my dad (with all his health and heart problems) and he is very hyper quick. I know he will be part of my childrens lives and I know that he will always be part of there life and mine. But he is going to jail for another DUI and once that happens we are going to be kicked out. I have nowhere to go. I mean nowhere! My mother has lost her job and has by sister, her two girls, and my borther living at home, my dad doesnt want the kids and the noise. My sister Angel lives in Chicago she said if she had the room I could live there but again no rooom and i understand becasue she has 4 children of her own and her U.S. Marshal husband is the only one working. I would LOVE to move near her (we are very close talk to her everyday 5 or 6 times a day). He will going to jail for 3 years minium and I dont have a job or acar to take care of the house here. I could get state help in Chicago because my sister would bring me to whatever I need. I filed for Child support and I wont get it if he goes to jail. So no money comming in there. I am getting emeregcy food stamps so the kids have food. Like you always say you are in it for the kids. Me too. Everyday since September 20th when he filed for divorce I have been on this computer trying to see where I can get help. I will not quit until we are safe. No matter how many times he beats me down I will et back up and stand strong for these kids. I dont want my Boy to see or think this is the way u treat woman. And i want my daughter to see and know I didnt put up with this and I want both of them to know mommy did whatever she had to to get them to a safe home. Even if it was begging, pleaing, or asking everybody for some charity help. I am strong for my kids but I am weak standing up to him. I want I need better for me my kids.. Please help us. Whatever you can do will help. Thanks for listening Love you Kristin

  3. Jennifer says:

    Dr. Phil- I’ve been an emtional eater/ mindless eater since I’ve been approx 14 years old. My mom had kicked me out around that age because of things I did as a teenager. She made me live w/ my dad who was a violent drunk who beat me all the time. I turned toward food because it comforted me & made me feel better. I even remember going to our local ice cream shop 2 to 3 times per week & getting a pint of ice cream, running home & I would go into my room close the door & eat the whole thing in 15 to 20 minutes. I would do that every time my dad would hit me. My relationship w/ food got stronger & stronger through out the years. I would even hide food, eat when no one was around, so no one could see how much I was actually eating. I didn’t know how to cope w/ what was happening to me so I ate. It made me feel better. I’m not gonna lie, it still does. Now 26 years later & I’m married w/ kids of my own. I have broken the abusive chain & the alcohlic chain. Those are not acceptable in my house. But I’m still struggling w/ the food. I still find myself doing the same things I did 26 years earlier. Why? Because it still makes me feel good. Becuase I still don’t know how to deal w/ anything any other way. Including stress, being upset etc.. Now my life is on the line. I’ve already had 3 stomach herina surgeries, gall bladder sugery, appendix sugery, a miscarriage that ended in a DNC of course. I have asthma, circulation problems in my legs, which I’m suppose to wear compression hose for. But mostly don’t due to the amount of pain my legs have. The blood flow will go down my legs, but not back up. My legs swell bad also. My stomach is so big it’s cutting off circualtion going down to my legs to. I have a severe case of osteo arthrtis which has eatin a hole in my left leg & I’m almost bone on bone in that left to. It hurts to walk. I’m taking 1,200mg of daypro everyday for pain. I get injections every 3 months to left leg to help me walk. The surgeion told me that if this weight does not come off within 6 months to a year, I will be in a wheelchair or dead. This is what I’ve let food do to me. I’m scared to death right now that my kids will not have me in there lives. I crave everything I’m probably not suppose to have. Expecially chocolate & saltly stuff. Things that you can grab easliy & eat. If I don’t get help soon, I’m scared I will die. Time is not on my side right now. I have a very LONG history w/ food that I’m more than ready to end if I just knew how. I need to have someone teach me & show me how to eat all over again. This way of eating I’ve done, is pretty much the only way I’ve ever known. How do you just flip a switch & change like that? I’ve never dealt with ANYTHING in my life execpt w/ food. I want to change & need to change for me & my kids who need me. I’ve changed 2 major things in my life by myself. The abuse & alcohol. Now I need help w/ this. Pls will YOU help me?

    Jennifer
    AKA aces40 twitter

  4. Elin says:

    Hello!
    I eat!:) I am the one who reach for some salty crunchy to eat! And I must have chocolate in the house! I can be agressive! The chocolate came after I had children!
    I eat when I’m sad and when I’m happy!
    I must eat when I watch TV or when I read the newspaper….
    Some days I want to eat all the time! In those days I eat anything that I can find of food, sweats etc…It’s like panic! I must eat something!! And I get anoyd after a day like that because I want to live healthy! I am lucky that I don’t put on too much kilos! I exersise everyday! as I don’t drive I walk alot and in the summer I love my bike!
    When I’m restless I eat! I have got the ADHD diagnos! So I think that is why sometimes I eat because I’m restless! Must do something! So I reach for the potatocrisps!
    But I also sometimes just feel very hungry all day! For instance about 10 minutes after dinner I’m very hungry again! It’s like I haven’t been eating at all!! I have got some tabletts for that! Losec I think they are called! But it is not a good feeling! beeing desparatly hungry all the time!!
    But when I am in my depressions that can be very painfull I don’t eat much! Because the depression hurt so much so it become a physical pain! When I am in a depression like that I am not able to do anything! The mentally paint just take over my body and I just get parylised. And food is not in my thoughts then!
    So that was my story about eating!

    Greetings from Elin in Norway!

  5. California Girl says:

    I think my eating problem started after I was a victim of rape. I felt guilty and I started thinking that if I didn’t eat, then I wouldn’t be able to eat while I’m outside of the house. I had the misbelief that I had to eat the food on the same day that I bought it or it would go bad and I would be a bad person for wasting food and money. I am a full time student, graduating in three years total with a BA. I am embarrassed to tell you my major because I have the knowledge to know what I should do and what I would do to help another person. However, it’s so comforting in some ways that it outweighs the pain it brings on some level. I feel like my willpower is weak. I am still having trouble just sitting still and feeling my emotions (loneliness, sadness, boredom, etc.) without going to fatty comfort foods. I am at a normal weight for my height, but I really lack the motivation to change my habits, even though I know my body is unhealthier than I want it to be. I am having trouble owning my own body. Realizing that it’s living, that I need to care for it, and I have the right to do with it what I want despite what others want with it.

  6. Linda Rose says:

    I am an emotional eater and have been trying to stop for years. I will do good for a while but then something happens to upset me and I want to eat! To keep that urge in check I only keep healthy food in the house. That way if I binge it won’t kill me. Even then I feel guilty afterward. Lately I have trained myself to recognize the symtom and go pray rather than eat.

    I had so many emotional problems to over come it has taken a life time to get this far. Anytime I feel rejection I want to eat. I am still over weight but am determined that will change as I want to be healthy as I age. I am also fighting heredity as everyone in my past is fat!

    Food is conforting. That idea started with warm milk my Grandma gave me every night before bed time. There wasn’t much to eat at our house at times but Grandma always managed to give me something warm like the milk or chicken soup so I wouldn’t go to bed hungry.Figuring out where a habit started and even knowing why I do it helps but it still is hard to break the habit. I feel for anyone who has this problem.

  7. Linda Rose says:

    This is written to Kristin who wrote one of the above posts. We live in another country so there isn’t much I can do for you physically. But I want you to know I admire how you are determined to keep your children with you and take care of them no matter how bad things are in your life. I went through similar things years ago and it was very difficult. It was only because of God’s grace we came through it all.
    Know that I am praying for you and your children that God will continue to strengthen you and provide all your needs. Never give up. Sometimes things get worse before they get better. Do what you are able and trust God for what you can’t do in your own strength. You are never alone. Please continue to let people know how you are doing. All the best to you and your children.

  8. Hello Mr. Lawlis,
    I am 25 years old and yes I am an emotional eater. It was a way to cope in high school because I just couldn’t deal with the world. Now my cravings almost control me.
    I think it is a culture and gene thing. If our parents are emotional eaters, then we probably will be to because if we are not taught to deal with life in a healthy way as children, were not going to know how as adults. When I feel sad, depressed, angry ect. I want sugar! I don’t typically care what kind of sugar, I just have to have it. My usual cravings are for skittles, Dots, Twix, Kit Kat, Swedish Fish, and anything with caramel+ some sort of crunchy nut.
    YES emotional eating interferes with my weight management. How else could I get to 250+ lbs??? No one forced me to eat it, I ate it, I couldn’t deal so I ate. My relationship with my cravings???? I crave…then eat! I think I almost OCD on the craving. I get a craving, ignore it, get a craving, ignore it, get a craving, ignore it….Then the cravings get more and more intense, then I obsess over it until I go and buy that type of candy and get it in my system. They seem to have a mind of their own and will just get more and more intense until I give in. If you crack the case Dr. Lawlis, I would like to hear what you do!!!

  9. Marisol Martinez says:

    My name is Marisol Martinez and I feel very hopeless. I think that I am an emotional eater and have tried just about every thing from aroma pens to acupuncture and I now gain 250 pounds. If I am happy I eat, if I am sad I eat, if I am bored I eat. I thoroughly disgusted with my self. I am not suicidal but I am obsessed with dying. It is a constant on my mind yet, I can’t the destructive pattern.

    Is that sick or what? I am going to be 40 years old and I don’t remember the last time I as really happy. This affects my spiritual life in a tremendous way and I don’t know why I can’t kick the sweet tooth (which I never had until about 5 years ago).

  10. Jill Johnson says:

    Dr. Phil,

    I too am an emotional eater. I have read the previous posts and I am kind of embarrassed. No one beat me, threw me out of the house at a young age etc. I have abandonment issues but nothing like I have read here. I am 5′ 6″ 210 pounds & 46. I am having my mouth rehabilitated on Monday. I used to use a ton of drugs and it ruined my teeth. I have been sober 6 years and am now in the position to fix my teeth. But I am a foodie. And since my chewing capability has been compramised for so many yrs., I am now huge. My weight, and my teeth have kept my self esteem down. I feel terrrible about myself. I do not go out into public much anymore, and the more I isolate, the more I eat to make myself feel better. Why can I not break this cycle? I am hoping when my mouth is fixed, I will be able to step up and move forward. But, what if I can’t? Please help!

  11. Janet Davies says:

    Hey Dr Lawlis

    When I get upset or depressed I can’t eat at all but when that passes I can eat normally. Interesting what you said about agressive people liking crunchy food. I am a chronic ice cruncher! I crunch on ice and drive people crazy with the racket. I don’t feel angry or anything while I am doing it. If I feel like indulging myself I go for creamy sweet foods. Now what do you make of that?

  12. Jennifer says:

    Something else I forgot to add. Now that my legs are bad I need sugery to my left leg. The surgion said he won’t do my surgery until I lose at least 100lbs or more. He wants me to get down to 250lbs. I’m approx 365lbs. My health is spirraling down fast. All of this because of my eating. I need some serious help. Dr. Phil- Thank you for listening.

    Jennifer-Aka-aces40from twitter

  13. Anita says:

    Wonder why some people eat when emotionally upset, and some don’t want anything to eat at that time? I tend to lose my appetite when I’m upset about something.

  14. Tsukihime says:

    I know I am an impulse eater, I see something that looks good at the moment and buy it. Most times I don’t even eat it, I end up giving it to a co-worker or other family member. I do notice I tend to eat more when I’m depressed or stressed out though. I guess my issue would be more along the lines of impulse spending than emotional eating even though it seems they go together for me…

  15. trying to help says:

    This post is for Kristin. I am sorry for everything you are going through. You should know that your not alone, a lot women go through the same type of problems. From what you wrote it seems you are looking nationally for help, but i think you should look more local. have you looked into your local Woman’s Shelter? This is a great place to go for women and children to excape abuse and get back on there feet. They also my be able to help you with your other needs. Also, try your local food banks, they may also be able to help with food. Also, there are churches in almost all communities that help women in times of need. Good luck to you! I am sure since you are strong enough to ask for help, that you ARE strong enough to get through this.

  16. Joi says:

    I believe with the pressures of Society today to be perfect, skinny, and the best at whatever, many turn to emotional eating. I, personally, have struggled with my weight especially since my son’s father told me he was ashamed to be seen with me and I was a size 9!!! I look at those pictures now and tend to sabotage myself by saying, I will never be that size again or what’s the use, as I reach for chocolate or food. My ex used to lift me up and say, you haven’t eaten much today, you need to eat. So I ate. Then I ate and ate. I have tried losing weight over and over for yrs (50 pounds in 6 months by exercising) or by not eating (learned later that is detrimental to myself), I also, due to my work schedule didn’t get to eat dinner until 9 or 10, which made me sleep on it, adding to my mid section. The rush of this life is what hurts most people. We eat on the run and eat fast food, or are too busy getting ahead to exercise. I hate exercising with a passion. Primarily because, due to Fibromayalgia, a half hour of exercise can wipe me out for easily upwards of two days. I actually stopped seeing a Doctor because she told me the best cure for it was to exercise. Well, in order to exercise, you need to be able to get out of bed first!!! I am constantly battling my weight, my health – wanting to get as healthy as I can be, but the pace of life is difficult. I stress of life is moreso. I am happy to say that this year, I have been working on my health issues and outlooks in life full force, but my weight is still a very strong issue because now because of years of emotional eating, I love to eat and I am too busy to take the time to eat healthy. Is there a such thing as being addicted to chocolate? If there is, I might be. I can logically know what I need to do, but it isn’t as strong as the pull of food. I’m stuck!

  17. Maureen says:

    Dear Dr. Phil and Dr. Lawless

    Many years ago when Dr. Phil was on the Oprah show discussing the subject of weight loss the phrase “it is not about what you are eating but about what is eating you” was uttered and those fourteen words changed my life. At some point further on in the discussion Dr. Phil stated that we medicate, companion, pleasure, entertain and console ourselves with food. Wow. What a revelation.

    I took these two “ah ha!” moments and all those important words to heart, to my computer, to the gym and to the grocery store and although I did diet and exercise what I actually did was write myself thin and into a light-hearted state of understanding. So much had been weighing heavily on my mind that it could not help but weigh down my body and soul.

    At first I did not really understand what I was meant to do but I just kept trying. I kept a food diary filled with lists, menus and pie charts and a daily journal of my activities but basically all this did was make me feel like I was on another diet. Same old same old. I only started to really get it when I began to do a mental experiment. Whenever I would find myself face down in a carton of ice cream with bits of apple pie in my hair and Oreos stuck to my cheek I would immediately write down the emotions that I was feeling and whatever or whoever it was that had made me feel this way. It wasn’t long before a pattern began to emerge but being truthful with yourself is not easy. Today when I read back to the beginning I can see that I was really lost in denial and that most of what I wrote was just a work of fiction.

    However, one day shortly after I started changing my life I was out for a walk and the most embarrassing thing EVER happened to me. When I got home I headed straight down the hall towards the kitchen ready to handle life in my usual fashion – assaulting the fridge – but for some reason I took a detour into the den and started writing all the truth about what had happened. I ended up phoning my best friend and reading what I had written to her and we both laughed like a couple of lunatics. From that moment on I have written about everything. Stories, poems, songs, diary, letters, posts, blogs.

    From my words I quickly learned three things – 1. the food was just a way of hiding and keeping me calm so that I would not have to deal with my life. 2. you can run but you can’t hide from yourself and ignore your life forever no matter how hard you try, because what ever you are running from and trying to ignore will just keep sneaking up on you and whispering to your soul. 3. all my life I avoided thinking and feeling and remembering and what I as doing was just plain silly. Why didn’t I just get on with dealing with my life? After all how much worse could it be than what I was living? The only thing the food was doing was making me fatter and the only thing the running was doing was making me tireder and sadder.

    Losing weight is about understanding yourself and finding a way to deal with the past and present without the use of a super-sized bag of potato chips to dull the pain and add to the guilt and adult acne.

    Sometimes what lies behind our eating is hidden. Sometimes it is pretty obvious. Sometimes it is something very small. Sometimes it is something so big it blots out the sun. But you have to find out.

    A while back the Oprah show was about the Biggest Losers. I cried soooo hard. So many of them are still struggling because although they get the eating and exercising part they still don’t get the understanding part.

    For me coming to grips with impulse eating and binging was/is the hardest part of the whole weight loss process. And everyone I know who has a weight issue has had or is having the same problem. We all had to find our own way and mostly we have been groping around in the dark. This is such a difficult subject that most experts and plans just gloss over it. They mention it in passing but do not really come up with the steps to take to help you understand yourself. They offer calorie and carb charts, shopping lists, menus and exercise programs to deal with the fat but no charts and lists to deal with the twists and turns of our minds and our emotions.

    I have been doing the weight loss thing for a very long time and I have only found one expert who at least tries to draw a map with his book – The Ultimate Weight Solution. I admit even though Dr. Phil had given me a real light bulb moment I was still very skeptical and thought that I was about to waste $39.99 Canadian plus tax – but I decided to go ahead. If for no other reason than to have a good sneer and mock session. To my surprise I was very surprised to find that the book was an easy read, made a lot of common sense and actually had a plan and some suggestions on ways to master overeating and figure out what your food based emotions were. It provided some clues along with some very practical advice.

    We all have to make the physical changes involved in losing weight (food and exercise) and we all have to make the mental changes by discovering what it is within ourselves that makes us eat. There is no permanent fix of one without the other.

  18. Maureen says:

    Part two of my emotional eating rant. Sorry.

    As an impulsive emotional eater and binger I know that it is an excellent idea to remove all the bad foods from your house so that you can’t eat them. Out of sight and if not out of mind at least out of reach. This does help.

    Well that is unless you are crazy enough to drive 40 kilometers at night in your bathrobe and slippers through a blinding snow storm to get a Dairy Queen Blizzard (how ironic). Then of course you should also remove your car keys by giving them to the neighbours at sundown and picking them up again at dawn. Actually you should wait until at least 7 o’clock because some people can get really snotty when they are “rudely” awakened. Don’t ever trust your husband with the keys. He will fold under pressure.

    Theories are great and having a safe, fool proof pantry and using healthy and balanced recipes can’t but help you to find weight loss and nutritional balance but an emotional eater will over eat anything because the food isn’t the biggest part of the equation.

    Once when my husband was away I was determined to surprise him (and myself) by losing a lot of weight and I did great but after two months I got so lonely that I eventually folded and consoled myself with my old friend, food. The house was filled with only good food so what’s a girl to do? It was fool proof but not ME proof so I binged on healthy crap.

    After I had eaten 4 huge bowls of stone ground large flake oatmeal with natural brown sugar and organic raisins and half a pound of low fat cheddar cheese I was sick at heart and disgusted with myself. And still lonely. (Note to self – deadly combination – with the oatmeal and brown sugar you get so much wind you could sky write and then the cheese constipates you. Not a pretty sight.)

    As I mentioned I was disgusted with myself but for days after I was mostly disappointed. All I could thing about was here we go again and are we going to go again and again? The only consolation was that the damage I did was as nothing compared to what I could have done with a chocolate cake or two, bag of potato chips or two and tub of ice-cream. Fortunately I decided not to wallow in guilt and self pity so the next morning I just went right back to following my healthy food plan. Not hard since there was a lot of left over oatmeal.

    Emptying your house of all those lovely bad foods does actually help. It won’t stop you but it does help by limiting the fall out. When you feel an emotional hunger coming on you have to find a way to stop or distract yourself that does not involve food.

    To find what works for you will take a lot of trial and error. Each of us is different. What works for me is to sit down and write, go for a walk and clean the bathroom. The writing helps me to organize my thoughts and to understand why I want to eat. It also fills in a lot of time. Sometimes enough time to make me completely forget what it was I was emotionally hungry about. The walk releases all those happy little endorphins that make me feel relaxed and loved. The loved part comes from the dog who still can’t get over the shock of me voluntarily taking him for a walk. Cleaning the bathroom is a great appetite suppressant and it is always very satisfying to see gleaming tiles and shining chrome. These are all strategies that work but you have to be willing to apply them and accept that you will always be at war with your desire to over eat. Every new emotional event will pose a challenge. There will be small skirmishes and there will be full out battles. Just lately our bathroom could be used as a sterile laboratory on the International Space Station and the dog pretends to be unconscious or starts limping and fake coughing when I take out his leash.

  19. Ms Perreault says:

    Hi Dr. Phil, one problem I find I have the most difficulties finding support for it is dealing with junk food addictions from the perspective of addiction. I have explore the food issues from the various angles available for support, I don’t relate to none of them. Unfortunately, most of the support to deal with addictions are limited to booze, drugs, gambling, not junk food yet when I talk to people with booze addictions, I can so relate to what they say or going through. The services in communities are generally not recognizing the junk food as an addiction, so I have not been able to get support in the community for it so far and I do NOT want to deal with psychiatrists for that neither, just support in the community to maybe start opening up the definition of addictions within their support group. Thanks

  20. Janet says:

    When my mom passed away 9yrs ago all I wanted to eat were mushy foods like mashed potatoes or the Kraft macaroni and canned cheese. I wouldn’t eat anything else. Then at another time in my life I wouldn’t feel right until I ate something crunchy at night. Recently it’s been some dark chocolate everyday. I’ve always preferred that kind of chocolate. It changes depending on my mood. I cannot seem to go more than a couple of days without some form of chocolate though as that pretty much stays the same.

  21. Heather says:

    I am an emotional eater. I have been since I was 15 years old. My metabolism was kinder to me then. Now, I emotionally eat, and purge. It isn’t shedding the pounds, but it makes me feel better. Getting the food out of my system makes me feel less guilty.
    When I do sit down and binge/emotional eat, my stomach feels like an empty pit that is never satisfied. It never gets full. My stomach won’t even hurt, because of the food I’ve put in to it. Stopping is hard, and when I do stop, its because A) I’m either out of the binging food I like. B) My husband will be home soon. C) My child will be getting up from nap time.
    Only when I read, Amy Liu’s Book, Life after an Eating Disorder, did I realize that I need help and quitting for months or years at a time, doesn’t ensure that the habits won’t come back. Its a tough battle and with therapy and support, I believe you can overcome it.
    There is more to life than food. And in retrospect, the food causes more problems, and heightens my sense of low self esteem… I weigh more than I ever have, and while I wallow in that pity with oreos, I realize that I will be numb to it all at that moment, but an hour later, I’ll just feel guilty and fat again.

  22. Kristen says:

    I’ve been an emotional eater ever since I can remember. A lot of it stems from my mother and her reaction to my being overweight as a baby, toddler, child, and teen. She was downright abusive about it, and recently information came to light that showed me things were a lot worse than I could recall.

    I remember a few occurences, once when I was nine and my mom saw me eating some Skittles I’d gotten at a friend’s birthday party she locked me outside the house with a jump rope without water in 95 degree heat and wouldn’t let me come into the house. Anytime we’d go school shopping and I’d try something on that didn’t she make “moo” noises. She’d do that alot, up until I finally left home when I was 23.

    Throughout my tween and teen years my mother had me on constant diet pills, cybergenics, xenodrine, hydroxicut, stacker series, sometime she even combined them. I’d try to hide them but she’d always find them and I’d be targeted again. She even told me I should start sticking my fingers down my throat and I did it. But I never lost the weight.

    Every time I’d get away from her I’d eat. It was my way of saying “screw you” so to speak. Consciously I realize the best way would be to lose the weight but that doesn’t seem to happen.

    I put myself through college, got married, and finally moved out of the house when I was 23. My husband died 3 months later and I moved from my home in the northeast to Texas with my best friend. I am still overweight even without my mother’s influence because I still hear her in my head.

    Every time I’d get away from her I’d eat and to this day, when things get overwhelming, I eat. It was my way of saying “screw you” to my mother or whomever so to speak. Consciously I realize the best way would be to lose the weight and take away the power she has to hurt me but nothing I try seems to work.

    Is there any place anyone knows of in the San Antonio area that deals with this type of behavior and helps you to overcome it?
    Thank you.

  23. Laureen Estabrooks says:

    I have been an emotional eater all my life. I am a well educated, out going, rational lady of 54. So tell me how I can be this messed up? Everything is about food and eating. I love to grocery shop and smell the fruits, vegetables and inspect the meat before buying it. I am in Heaven! I think of the meals I will put together with my food purchase. While cooking I smell the aromas and I feel less stressed. I feel wonderful for a few minutes when I am eating.

    There was much tragedy in my teenage years. Then I married at 19 and my husband had issues. Many years later I would discover he was bi-polar. To cope with his ups and downs, ranting and raving, and abuse, I ate. In the past 10 years many tragedies have occured in our family and again, I ate. Along with all the tragedy I have had 6 knee surgeries in the past 5 years and again I ate. Frustration took over because of my lack of mobility and the loss of my job. My two daughters have moved to their own homes and I am here with my abusive husband who cannot handle the fact that I am some what disabled. He is mean, nastly and hateful to me and so I eat.

    I am coping with osteoarthritis. I had to have a spinal fusion 16 years ago. Currently both knees are replaced. I have fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease, and high blood pressure. My back makes it hard to get around but I do my darndest to stay as active as I can. I need to lose at least 100 pounds and maybe them my back will hurt less.

    I am currently filing for divorce after 35 years of marriage. I am trying to solve some of my food issues by turning to writing. I have always loved to write poetry as it helped me cope. Now I am writing a murder mystery to keep me busy and give me some purpose. I have also started an exercise program designed for arthritis patients. I am hoping and praying that I can turn my life around. I am also finding Dr. Phil’s Weight Loss Solution very helpful.

    I am not sure what awaits me on the other side of my present situation, but I am kicking off the doors and letting in some light. A good shake up from the top on down often produces good results. Let the dust fly! I am getting mobile one way or the other! Move over Twinkies. Your days are done!!

    CanadianGirl 54

  24. gina says:

    As a child, I learned to trade my feelings for ice cream, candy and cupcakes. I had a counselor who used to ask me, “What do you do with the sad?” I honestly couldn’t tell her.

    I now know that I’ve always thrown food at the sad and the mad. I learned to do the same with stress. As the caretaker child in a family who put the “fun” in dysFUNctional, I also used food to get through stress.

    Food is my coping skill. Give me a buffet, some home cooked Italian food or some kettle cooked chips and dip and I can get through anything.

    Has it interfered with my weight management? At nearly 300 pounds, I’d say so. I can eat healthy, which makes me feel better, until some trauma happens. Since my wonderful mother died last year, I’ve gained 50 pounds.

  25. Kendra says:

    My comfort food is chocolate candy.

  26. ri says:

    hi Dr Phil,
    i am morbidly obese (5′2″, 300lbs, BMI 54.9, waist 63 inches) , i live in a recliner chair. i could get up and get around and do more things for myself and exercise, but it’s extremely hard for me to get up and get around in here because i’m boxed in this room stuck living in a chair, because of my family’s clutter/hoarding.
    please help me get out of this unhealthy situation and get on the road to a healthy life! i want to live! i have been trying to get help for years now. i have no way out, I NEED YOUR HELP. PLEASE!!!

  27. Kristin says:

    Hello Linda Rose and just trying to help~

    I hate my sitaution. ANd if u bothe are mothers too. You will do anything for your children. I have called shelters they are full or some wont take my 6 month old daught she is too young. I have called the police and the beating just gets worse I called the police atotal of three times. The first time he ran they never caught him, the second they (the police) told me they can ask him to leave but cant force him to . ANd the third they came out went upstairs talking to him about football and him not threw ing things and they left. He came down stairs wth the phone in his and and beat the heck out of me. So i am not calling the police anymorethey stink around here. And note i had bruises on my neck and arms and they still did nothing. I need to ge out of the state. He will not follow me out of state. He doesnt like driving long distance. Yes I do believe in god but my faith and hope is drifting fast I have tried everything to get help. But nothing so far.
    Thank u ladies for talking to me. :0)

  28. Amanda says:

    Hi Dr. Phil.
    I have Adult ADHD, I was diagnosed over two years ago now. I spent my whole life pushing myself against all distractions always wondering why I couldn’t measure up, and exhausting myself creating total stress on my body and mind.
    Then, in order to feel good, happy or not hurt, I would eat. Usually high carbs, sugar, etc.
    I’ve yo-yoed all my life, and it is shocking how intertwined eating and drinking as ‘comfort’ is in our society has become until you try and stop.
    It is always in our faces; yummy fast food, so fast you don’t have to waist your (already busy) time to cook. It is cheaper to eat sugary, higher fatty foods because our food industry is geared towards our ‘fast food’ nation, than it is to eat fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grained food.
    So it is so much easier to emotional eat, why go for a run when you get a better high from sugar/salt?
    I had to really want to put myself first in order to succeed at stopping the emotional eating, and it’s a hard, hard road.
    You cry, you get crabby and you just really want that caramel/chocolate, because darn-it, it is going to feel so much better than this stress I’m going through right now.
    It takes finding other things to relieve stress that you can do, painting, walking, making things, going out with friends, talking, talking and talking.
    It takes a supportive network of people to help change 1 person.
    You’re blog post, brings a lot of issues out on the table; How do we make it easier to help emotional eaters realise that they want to change, give them tools to help them change, therefore giving them hope by finding new ways to manage stress.
    I feel it is a society ‘changing’ movement that is needed; people need to realize self care is global, making changes for yourself can change society, economically and socially.
    One less brownie at a time.
    Thanks for your post!
    ~Amanda

  29. Cindy says:

    My parents died about 20 years ago. I was overweight when they died, and have gained 69 pounds since they died.

    I had to deal with the stress of living on my own, going to college and looking for a job. I have had to go through alot of stress by myself. I sometimes did not have enough money to buy the right kinds of food that I should be eating. I am currently unemployed and I have no car. I have been without a car for 16 years. I had to take the city bus or walk for transportation. I am presently in debt with school loans. I have had to move numerous times because I did not make enough money to pay my bills when I had a job. I had a part time state job that was seasonal. I got sick and had to have surgery. I explained to my employer that I had surgery before working for them the last time. After working there 12 years as a seasonal worker they put me on the do not call list. I had no medical leave or benefits with this job. I sent them a doctor’s note stating that I had surgery. When I applied at the temporary service that they had recently outsourced the work to, they told me that they could not give me my job back.

    Now I am dealing with unemployment, no car and school loan debt. I also have to have surgery again. My blood pressure is up and the doctor wants to wait until I can get it down.

    Eating potato chips, candy bars or a whole pizza or 6 donuts did not help my situation any. I can not eat just one potato chip I have to eat the whole bag.

    I try to take one day at a time. I am still currently in school. I just need a few more classes and I will have an Associate’s Degree. The way the job market is I do not know how long it will take to find a job.

    I am currently on food stamps and they are not enough assistance to buy the foods that I should buy.

    I would appreciate any help or advice you might have Dr. Phil.

    I am presently approximately 130 pounds overweight. I did not have this weight problem when I lived at home with my parents and I had a car.

  30. Dr. Phil, I came up with an idea today. What do ya think?

    Mac N Cheese, Traditional Thanksgiving at maternal Grandmother’s, Warm Ida B Peanut Butter Cookies like grandmother use to make Chicken CatchaStory like mom made (phonetically joking as can’t remember how to spell Chicken CatchAstory)

    RE:
    Tour De The Doctors & Tour De Dr Phil Show Team

    SEAangels14
    Heard of Battle of the Stars? Battle of the Bulge Recumbent Exercise Bike Tour De @TheDoctors & Tour De @DrPhil Show Team. C who does best.
    about 5 hours ago from web

    SEAangels14
    @DrPhil @TheDoctors Join me in Recumbent Exercise Bike Tour De @TheDoctors & Tour De @DrPhil Show Team COMMITTING to exercise during M-F. :)
    about 5 hours ago from web

  31. BrittA. says:

    Hi Dr. Phil. I’m from Norway and I watch your show every time i get a chance. You write about emotional eating and I can see myself eat when I read all of this. Salty Chips an Oreo coockies. I guess I’m angry since I eat crunchy snacks, but I also eat an extrem amont of chocklate!! My weight has been very high and extremly low ever since I was aprox. 12/13 years old. There’s been negative environment in my mom and dads house since I was born, maybe even before i was born. She drinks ALOT, and he is depressed. Things have happend trough the years and made everything worse.
    Everytime I feel something, happy sad angry, what ever the feeling, I eat!! I’ve been to a psychologist(under education) at age 16-17, and I belive that I fooled her. After a year she said I was healthy, discharged me and that was that. I didn’t feel any better, I was still hurting myself and she discharged me. I gave up and returned to my own self destructive patterns and acted like everything was fine, because I didn’t want to hurt my dad or his feelings. I’m now 24 years old, stoped hurting myself for a while, but then I started to eat again. Now I’m in this vicious circle and I’m having bad thoughts. It’s developed to the level of self-destructive pattern again. I’m scared of myself and what I’m thinking when I eat!! I don’t have any control of myself anymore or my thoughts. I’ve given up on psychologists and doctors, those I’ve been to havent helped me yet. Maybe I’ve just haven’t met the right doctor. I hear what you say in your show, I read it on your websites, but I don’t have the courage to do that!! I don’t now how to do it myself, I can give advice to every person I know, but I can’t follow them myself.

    How do people get out of their eating habits??? I would like to learn somethings from other people!!

    Thank you for your honest answers and thinking!! You made me think twice about what I am doing to myself and the people around me.!

    But I don’t know how to change me. maybe you can help…?

  32. Jennifer V says:

    My comment is not about emotional eating. I have a condition called trigeminal neuralgia and have had two craniotomies in the past 7 years in an effort to relieve the pain and nothing seems to be helping. I recently weaned myself off of methadone and a number of other meds that were causing more harm than good and it was so difficult, I now have a good understanding of withdrawal and the difficulty and have a new understanding for what addicts go through. After your show about addiction to prescription medications I realized and new before the show that it was me! My son is getting deployed, special forces USMC, as I am proud of him I am scared for him. I am afraid all of these stressors and the inability to control this horrible pain I will cave again. How do I stay strong? How do I move forward from this. I am an RN with a BSN and wish to return to work but sometimes go for days without sleeping secondary to the pain and stress. I need help just to keep it together. Dr. Lawless I saw that you have a specialty in neurological diseases, have you got any ideas for my situation? I really hope you do I am an my wits end and scared that my addiction will take over my life again and I don’t want that! Please give me any advice you can think of. Thank you so much in advance. Jennifer

  33. Adele SA says:

    Dr Phil, I have been over weight my entire life and remember my mom putting me on first diet when I was only 6 years old. My mom took me to a dietitian when I was a bit older and I remember being utterly devastated when the school nurse came to do health checks and weighed us and I weighed a good 40 pounds more than any of my peers (Gr 7). I was not severely overweight but I was tall and ‘big’. A few years ago I eventually forced my doctor to do a couple of tests and found that I was insulin resistant. I am not sure if I had been for most of my life or if it just developed over a period of time.
    I never thought of myself as an emotional eater and I did not eat very much either. About a year ago I went through a bad patch in my marriage and I separated from my husband for a couple of months. During this time I sought counselling and only then did the puzzle pieces start to fall into place.
    I had been abused by my stepfather since I was about 6 or 7 and this lasted to the age of 12 when I finally had the courage to say ‘NO!’ I did not tell my mother until years later when I was 16 and then I did not get the response I ‘needed’.
    During my therapy sessions we touched on the possible connection between the abuse, having recurring stomach ailments and missing school because of it and also living in poverty for most of my life. My therapist raised the point of whether my physical weight (the fat) is my body’s way of actually holding on to things. I hope the way I have put it makes sense. I unfortunately had to end my sessions due to financial restraints but I have all these questions and feel as if the can has been opened and now I am left with these open wounds.
    I am now noticing that when I am emotional that I am craving for food and sometimes I do give in. I am aware when I do start eating and I try to reason with myself but there is this void which needs to be filled. I do not binge at all but just have crave for ‘bad’ foods. I am back with my husband and he has always been very supportive regarding my history of abuse etc, but he has difficulty in understanding and does not always now how to handle me when I do have an emotional period.
    I would really appreciate any advise, as I can not continue this way. I have a little girl of 3 years old and want to be good role model for her and I need to before it is too late.

  34. Anna says:

    A Swedish woman has just written a book about ADHD, ADD felt on the inside, and how it is to get diagnosed as an adult. I prefer to call me impulsive, is the book’s title. The book is written by Carina icon Nilsson from Sweden

  35. MaryLee says:

    I overeat a LOT and recently faced the fact that I must be bulimic, but that’s just a side problem of many others. I throw up at least 4 to 5 times a day, but I must be soaking up some food, becaus I’m overweight, and really don;t care what I eat anymore, since it’s just going to come back up anyway.
    Forgive me for going off-topic, but I’m been writing a blog on Dr. Phil’s website for a couple of months, but no one is reading it, and I don’t know how to get help, even though I’ve mentions this to my doctors. I’ve been looking for years on the internet to find a name to what I have, and it took nearly forever to enter the right search tersm, but I found it – Rigid Akenetic Movement Disorder, which started a few months after a bad concussion I had in 1991. I also have clinical depression, and it has gotten worse after my fall. I’m seeing my psychiatrist next month (see him every 3 months), my doctor next week, who won’t give me the estrogen that I *know* I need now, at age 57, and my dentist, where I got the awfullest-looking dentures you’ve ever seen that I refuse to wear.
    I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone, and no one is alive or hear me or believe me, but me. And I don’t like me. Thanks for reading this, if anyone has. ~ML

  36. Katy says:

    I’m very emotional! And usually when I got problems I just started to eat a lot more and also started to eat things I shouldn’t. Immediately I gained some weight. I found out one way. Each time I feel bad or stressed with something I do exercise or just do an 1 hour walk. I still eat a lot but I also spend a lot of calories… I don’t think I’m stronger in terms of avoiding or solving stressful situations, but at least I don’t gain weight. :)

  37. Laura says:

    Dr. Lawlis,
    I am such an emotional eater I have been all my life. I started as a very young child who ran to food after my step father killed himself in front of my poor mother, and then she was like I don’t even know what to call her except, “not all the way mentally home for quite a few years,” she was either not talking or just yelling and crying 24/7″ whatever you call a person like that. “Thank God, she is way better today, she is a very strong women, but she too is an emotional eater.

    When this all happened I was only 6 and my baby brother was just 8 months old. I kind of took on my mother’s role and had to grow up very fast. Then I suffered a lot of sexual abuse from some very sick people who took advantage of the situation we were in. Since I was hurting and young I think the only thing I could do was turn to food. And now that I am older it’s the first thing I do, I run to the food! I HATE it, but I do it over and over again. I even laugh about it, but it’s not funny at all.

    I do so good for a while, but then something happens and I am right back eating to stuff down the stress or pain that I’m going through. I just lost over 20lbs I was doing so good, I’ve even been walking 5K’s to help charity and myself. I’ve done 4 so far this year and have been walking at least an hour daily. I thought I was really winning the battle this time, but a problem hits and I am right back at it again.

    I am going through a MAJOR problem, my 19 year old daughter has been put in a mental hospital, because she is depressed. She was going to a doctor and going to group therapy to help and she was starting to get better, she finally felt good enough to open up to them about how she was very depressed before and she had even wanted to kill herself. So they told her to sign herself in the hospital or they would put her in. Even though, she kept telling them, I DO NOT feel that way now! It was days ago not today. They wouldn’t listen and now she is in one of the worse places, it’s the only place New Orleans has for all mental patience since Katrina. You would think they would have a separation from depressed, delusional, coming off drugs and all the other things, but they don’t.

    I am a nervous wreck, I am so scared she is going to get hurt. They stole 3 of her shirts and her little $4 vending money out of her room when she was in one of the so called sessions they have. My daughter called them, freak out hour, because all that keeps happening. She said, the very sick people that don’t want to be there or don’t even know where they are start screaming or throwing things. She just tries to hold her breath and hope to God they don’t notice her, some of them think certain people are bad, evil, devils or whatever they see in their mind. So, I am not really upset about her things being stolen, “she on the other hand is/was” I am upset, because of what happens in the meetings and that they did nothing about her things missing. They said we didn’t see it and act like it was nothing. I suggested they look at the video tape that is suppose to be taking them? One of the workers said, there isn’t any tape in those! I feel if someone can come in her room and steal from her and no one see’s it what would stop a person from coming in and either hitting her or sexually hurting her? So with all this stress I’ve eating and eating. I already ate a huge bag of peanut butter pretzel,the WHOLE BAG! It’s a bag from Sam’s so it’s BIG! As I write this I want to go comb the house for chocolate. I know I am going to eat something since I am feeling, scared, upset, mad and helplessness over my daughter. One part of me is like you have the right to eat the whole house right now, so go for it! My thinking is like, your daughter is crying for you to take her home and you can’t. You want to break her out but you won’t! I thought about just breaking her out, but she did like the group before all this happened and I don’t want to mess that up for her. Then on the other hand, I know she will never open up to them if they didn’t listen to her the first time and the only thing they did when she opened up was through her in jail. It really is like jail, I promise you I’ve been going daily to visit the 1 hour we get and the only thing different is I get to hug her and I can sit next to her, oh and we don’t have a piece of glass between us. I am sorry I keep going I could go on and on and on, I am so stressed out.

    Dr Lawlis, I love when your on Dr. Phil’s show and I think your such an intelligent doctor who cares and really gets people. I can tell you LOVE what you do, it really shows on your face and the way you speak. I will look for your book, The Brain Power Cookbook, I think it sounds like it could really help my daughter and myself. We need all the help we can get so I better use it daily. ;)

    Thank you for caring and sharing your wisdom with us.

  38. Emotional Eating says:

    Emotional eating is a relatively common problem for both men and women. If you eat in response to your feelings, especially when you are not hungry, you are an emotional eater. Emotional eating means your emotions not your body dictate when and how much you eat.

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